It’s a universal truth: the turning of the fall foliage is one of the world’s most enchanting natural phenomena, and in the US, it comes in many different iterations.

You can drive beneath the amber canopies of New England, watch fiery maples take over the vistas of the northern midwest, or marvel at the golden aspens as they contrast against the rocky peaks of the west.

All that said, determining peak leaf peeping season isn’t an exact science – color windows vary across the country due to weather patterns, elevation, and sometimes just pure chance. Luckily for you, we’ve pulled together a list of our favorite fall destinations and tips on when to catch the colors at their brightest.

Fall Foliage and the Stowe Community Church, Stowe, Vermont, USA
Stowe Community Church in Vermont is a beacon for leaf peeping photographers ©DonLand/Shutterstock

1. Stowe, Vermont

Perhaps the most famous US destination for autumn lovers, Stowe delivers on all counts: spectacular palettes of reds, oranges and yellows; tons of mountain roads and hikes; and access to the highest points in Vermont’s photogenic Green Mountains. Rent a cabin or pitch a tent among some of New England’s most gorgeous forests and enjoy the scenery this region is renowned for.

Stowe’s fall foliage season generally lasts from early September through late October, with colors peaking in the middle of that period. Use Stowe’s Foliage Finder to follow the color progression on the area’s various scenic drives. 

Man stood on the edge of a large rock overlooking the scenic Shenandoah National Park in fall colours
Don't fall! Shenandoah National Park in autumn © Joel Mulbah & Alyssa Gilbert / Virginia Tourism Corporation

2. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia 

This expansive park encompasses nearly 100 miles of central Appalachian views, making it one of the most accessible – and scenic – fall destinations in the eastern US. Drive along the famous Skyline Drive for breathtaking autumnal vistas or take to the trails to wander beneath Virginia’s beautiful deciduous forests as they don their most exuberant colors. 

Shenandoah’s fall colors generally begin to emerge in October, peaking midway through the end of the month. The park posts weekly updates on the color changes to their social media accounts, but if you’re looking for a more robust tracker ahead of time, check out the Virginia Department of Forestry’s fall foliage reports.

3. Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Imagine a large, mirror-like river buttressed by misty mountains and forested shores, all graced with explosions of gold and orange – a scene worthy of a painting. Happily, this place is real and it exists at the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area in Oregon, one of the best leaf-peeping destinations on the west coast. 

Marvel at the intermingling of evergreen forests with alders and maples, all against a mountainous backdrop. Fall colors in this region of Oregon reach their zenith in late October.

Male hiker on East Rim trail in Zion national park with desert cliffs and some trees changing colour
The changing of the leaves in Zion National Park, Utah ©VisualCommunications/Getty Images

4. Zion National Park Utah

If you visit Zion in the fall, you’ll see a scene you likely won’t see anywhere else on earth: vermillion maples and yellow cottonwoods accenting the striking red rock desert. The park’s deciduous forests hug the creeks and rivers, and routes like the Emerald Pools Trail offer immersive journeys through Zion’s autumnal wonders. 

Zion’s color-changing process varies depending on elevation in the park – higher elevations peak in mid-October, while lower elevations hold on to their colorful foliage as long as the middle of November.

5. Tennessee/North Carolina state line

The Tennessee/North Carolina state line is a marvelous region to visit year round, but it takes on a special charm in the fall, when the ubiquitous mountain forests shed their trademark green for a warmer set of hues. Hike through the enchanting Pisgah and Cherokee National Forests, get a birds-eye-view of golden valley floors at Roan Mountain, or dig deep into the beauty of southern Appalachia at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Like its western counterparts, Southern Appalachia’s fall colors are elevation dependent. The region’s higher reaches develop colors in early and mid-October, while lower elevations reach their color peaks in late October and early November. 

Cars driving across The New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia on a crisp autumn day
West Virginia's New River Gorge Bridge is a great places to see the fall folaige ©WilliamSherman/Getty Images

6. West Virginia

Perhaps one of the country’s most unsung – but most beautiful – destinations, West Virginia is a foliage fan’s dream. Covered in forests that wrap across the state’s undulating terrain, West Virginia offers an alternative leaf peeping experience that rivals some of the country’s most famous leaf peeping destinations. Watch the colors collide with the waterfalls and craggy peaks of the Potomac Highlands, take in views of crimson and tangerine tree tops along one of the continents oldest rivers (ironically named the New River), or hike into the multi-hued hollows of the Hatfield McCoy Mountains. 

Leaves begin changing in late September, with peak colors appearing in mid-October; West Virginia tourism manages a live leaf map throughout the fall, so you can see the changes as they happen.

7. Northwestern Wyoming

Wyoming’s mountainous west knows how to deliver drama, and the region takes things up a notch in the fall. Aspens, cottonwoods, willows, and black hawthorns drape the landscape in color, a striking foreground to the imposing Tetons and the winding Snake River. Yellowstone gets in the spirit, too, and don’t miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the area’s national forests. If you’re lucky, you may even get a light dusting of snow, which really sets the fall colors off. 

Colors peak in the Wyoming mountains from late September to early October, with colors changing earlier at higher elevations.

8. Wisconsin Northwoods

Home to sprawling boreal forests and glacial lakes, the Wisconsin Northoods immerse visitors in true autumn glory. Take a scenic drive through the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, fish for trophy musky beneath the multihued canopy, or visit one of the region’s small communities for fall festivals.  

The fall foliage in northern Wisconsin begins its transformation in September, with colors maxing out in early October. Follow Travel Wisconsin’s fall color reports for live updates.

High quality stock photos of woman shooting photos of Autumn colors in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Nevada and California.
Grab your camera if you're heading for Northern Nevada ©JasonDoiy/Getty Images

9. Northern Nevada

Nevada may be well known for its deserts, but its mountainous north provides an oasis of fall foliage that just may surprise you. Head to Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains to see golden treetops wrap around the region’s rocky peaks, and if you’re feeling adventurous, don a backpack and immerse yourself in nature on the Ruby Crest Trail.

Fall colors emerge in mountainous Northern Nevada in October, usually reaching their most colorful state at the end of the month. 

10. Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway, Arkansas

This 35-mile route crosses the Boston Mountain Range of the Ozarks in Arkansas, taking you through two national forests (Ozark and Ouachita), across the 165-mile Ozark Highlands Trail, and up to Buffalo National River, the country’s first. A joyous network of twists and turns through the state’s most lush countryside, this byway delivers autumn foliage in high definition. 

Like other destinations in this part of the country, the Ozarks start seeing fall colors in late September or early October, with things peaking in late October and early November.

This article was first published Aug 22, 2019 and updated Sep 5, 2023.

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